The Vaal’s local economy has been on the back burner for too long, and it is now time to reignite the region to foster economic growth, according to Gauteng Premier David Makhura. Makhura was speaking at the Sedibeng SMME Conference, which was held in Vereeniging, and attended by Gauteng Economic Development MEC Parks Tau and Sedibeng Mayor Lerato Maloka.
Makhura said that the region’s economy was vital to the province’s reindustrialisation efforts and it could not be left behind. The economy of the Vaal Triangle has been under threat for more than a decade, with the once-powerful steel manufacturing centre of Gauteng being hit hard, resulting in job losses and very little opportunity for economic growth.
And the knock-on effect on SMMEs has been huge.’ “The early industrialisation of the Vaal destroyed and polluted the environment and excluded black people as nothing other than the sources of cheap labour living in townships as sources of labour,” he said.
“Our aim is to spark the beginnings of the second industrialisation which is green, more inclusive, and which leaves no one behind.” Makhura reminded the conference that the Vaal Triangle was set to become the cornerstone of a new Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and the Vaal River Smart City. He said that the Vaal River SEZ strategy and business case were based on key pillars.
“(These include) making the Vaal the cannabis capital of Africa, (which is a) new sector that has enormous potential to offer opportunities to new emerging farmers and new industrialists who grow… cannabis for medicinal and other uses, (and) building strong linkages between the township and rural economies with the value chains that the Vaal SEZ will develop and strengthen” The premier also said that the Vaal River and Vaal Dam would help reignite SMMEs.
“Through infrastructure interventions and target public/private investment initiatives, we must shift the mindset of all stakeholders from treating the Vaal River and Vaal Dam as a problem to seeing the entire Vaal River System as an opportunity to build a blue economy, a new smart city, new logistics sector, and building a hub of the cannabis industry and hydrogen economy in the south of the Gauteng city-region,” he said.
The Vaal River and Vaal Dam were major natural resources that should be protected and harnessed to unleash the full potential of this region to provide sustainable livelihoods, decent incomes and a better quality of life for those living in Sedibeng District, the premier said.
Tau unpacked some of the interventions by his department for the region. He said the townships of Sedibeng and the full scope of disadvantaged areas around Vereeniging, Sharpeville and Vanderbijlpark were being put forward as township enterprise zones. “The Vaal will directly benefit from this new kind of designation, and the businesses in the township enterprise zones will benefit from just about everything we can do for them as government,” the MEC said.
A Sedibeng Investment Summit earlier in October had secured commitments worth R40 billion that would create around 170,000 jobs, he said. Maloka said that SMMEs were the backbone of Sedibeng. “I appreciate the conference in bringing SMMEs together in this manner because they are key to job creation and reducing unemployment and are drivers of economic growth,” he said.